Big Mistakes Novice Travelers Make and How to Avoid Them

Common Travel Mistakes to Avoid

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Biggest Travel Mistakes

Trip Slips

Traveling is one of the best ways to broaden your horizons, but planning a big trip can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. From overpaying for flights and hotels to falling victim to cultural faux pas, the list of potential pitfalls is daunting. We talked to travel bloggers and other globetrotters about mistakes they made when they were starting out so you can avoid the same missteps. 

Related: Places to 'Travel Abroad' Without Leaving the Country

Tipping in Foreign Countries

Tipping Trials

The mistake: "I went on a trip to visit a few European countries and thought that I was with people that were really cheap. I couldn't believe they weren't tipping. And I even felt bad and tried to tip extra graciously to make up for their rudeness. Only to find out that you don't have to tip in many European countries because the waitstaff gets paid a regular wage. So not only was I walking around judging these people in my head, I also spent way too much money tipping like a fool." —Domica Carter, Richmond, Virginia 

Related: Feel Like You're Getting Asked for Tips More Often? You're Not Alone

Brush Up on Tipping Etiquette
Street Scammers

Street Scammers

The mistake: "I traveled to Barcelona with a friend. On one of the streets was a man with a table (an upturned box), three cups, and a dice. A small group of men were handing over money betting that they'd be able to follow which cup the dice was in as they were switched furiously around. They each kept up with the right cup and won. My friend and I thought that it would be easy and paid our money. Of course, the men were all in it together and we lost." —Charlotte Addicott, A Broad on a Board 

Related: How to Avoid Being a Crime Victim When You’re on Vacation

Busker playing violin

Street Scammers

The remedy: Read up on common scams before you visit a destination, as many are already quite well-known. Maintain a healthy sense of skepticism, especially during chance encounters, and know how to say "no, thank you" in the local language — sometimes quite forcefully — if you're approached by someone who wants to give you or sell you something, sing you a song, or tell you a sob story.

Unsafe Drinking Water

Water Woes

The mistake: "I brushed my teeth with the tap water in developing countries, without thinking that it's as problematic as drinking it. I will also never eat lettuce in a foreign country again. No problem fitting in the skinny jeans after that experience." —Teresa Smith, Cincinnati

Drink Bottled Water

Water Woes

The remedy: In general, drinking the tap water won't make you sick in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and a few other destinations. But in the rest of the world, you're better off sticking to bottled water, even when you're doing something such as brushing your teeth. Sure, locals may be able to drink it without an issue, but you won't have the same immunities built up.

You Don't Consider Your Pace

No Time to Relax

The mistake: "One of my first European trips, I made the mistake of visiting three cities in a week since airfare in between European countries is relatively cheap. Not only was my time in certain countries limited, which didn't allow for me to fully enjoy the experience, I was also exhausted and stressed out from sightseeing and bouncing around airports." —Paula Dixon, Curly Hair Adventures

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Limit Your Itinerary

No Time to Relax

The remedy: Remember that a vacation is supposed to be just that: a vacation. Build your itinerary around a couple of "must visit" locations or sights, allowing time to savor things such as unscheduled exploration and leisurely meals. Marching from one attraction or city to another can suck the joy out of a trip — especially if there's a significant amount of travel between them.

Passport Problems

Passport Problems

The mistake: "This happened more recently than I like to admit, but I didn't realize that some countries won't allow you to enter if your passport will expire within three months of your visit. I had to scramble hard for a last-minute renewal and barely made my trip." —Erica Jackson Curran, Richmond, Virginia

Airport agent checking covid passport of a senior man

Passport Problems

The remedy: If you want to play it safe, your best bet is to ensure your passport is good for six full months beyond the dates of any international travel. A laundry list of countries, including Thailand, require that much time left on a passport beyond your departure date. Others may require three months' validity. Bottom line: Double-check individual countries' entry rules before booking. 

Back view of couple in a train station wearing protective face masks, looking at their smartphone and the travel board with train schedule information.

Ticketing Turmoil

The mistake: "My family was planning to meet me for a long weekend in Dublin while I lived in London. They were coming from different parts of the States, facing severe weather delays and last-second airport sprints. Me? I was coming from Dublin, the easiest trip of all. Who showed up last, several hours late? Me. Because the entire week I'd misread my departure time as my arrival time, so I showed up to the airport right after my flight took off. I ended up eating the cost, buying another flight, and learning an incredibly valuable lesson." —Stephanie Vermillion, The Wanderlost Way

Woman uses smart phone to book travel reservation
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Ticketing Turmoil

The remedy: Look closely — very closely — at your travel reservations. Ensure you know whether you're looking at a departure time, boarding time, or arrival time, and don't confuse a.m. and p.m. — a particularly common error, according to the travelers we spoke with. And remember that date conventions vary abroad: The day often comes before the month. So don't book that ticket for 3/9 thinking you're traveling in March and finding that you've actually booked for early September.

Rental Car Crisis

Rental-Car Risks

The mistake: "We didn't thoroughly inspect the rental car, inside and out. We rented one in Hawaii that was infested with roaches. They just kept appearing from door frames and wherever. It was gross." —Krista Looper, Knoxville, Tennessee 

Related: 11 Things to Know About Costco Car Rental

Man taking photo of a car on his phone.
Andranik Hakobyan/istockphoto

Rental-Car Risks

The remedy: Always give any rental car a thorough once-over. Outside, note any damage (yes, even small door dings) in case the company tries to charge you for something that happened before you ever took the wheel. Take pictures for proof. Inside, ensure the car has been thoroughly cleaned (and yes, check for bugs). If something is amiss, insist on a replacement.

Laborious Luggage
Sami Sert/istockphoto

Laborious Luggage

The mistake: "My most memorable rookie mistake is from my first visit to Japan. I took a full-size rolling suitcase not realizing the gantlet I would need to navigate in the train stations. From dozens of small level changes (three to four steps each time) to narrow turnstiles that I had to lift the suitcase over, the suitcase was an absolute nightmare." —Craig Burdett, New York  

Related: Goodbye, Baggage Fees: 10 Carry-On Tips

Choose a Smaller Backpack

Laborious Luggage

The remedy: Large roller bags are oh-so-convenient for domestic travel along smooth airport floors and sidewalks, but they can be a nightmare elsewhere, where you may have to deal with cobblestones, tons of steps, tight corners, and packed subways. Consider a wheeled backpack that can give you the convenience of being able to wear your bag when circumstances demand it, and wheel it other places where you can give your back a break.

Bathroom Bewilderment

Bathroom Bewilderment

The mistake: "It's easy to forget that you have to pay to use public restrooms sometimes, for instance in the Philippines. And it's easier to forget that sometimes they're not well-stocked. Even water can be hard to come by." —Rachel Sangchompuphen, Denver

Be Sure to Have Spare Change for Bathrooms

Bathroom Bewilderment

The remedy: Always keep a dollar or so in local currency reserved for a trip to the bathroom. In Europe, it's not uncommon to have to tip an attendant, or to have to insert coins into a free-standing stall before the door will open. A small roll of toilet paper and antibacterial gel can also be a lifesaver, especially in developing countries.

Visa Problems

Vexing Visas

The mistake: "U.S. citizens traveling to Machu Picchu only need a valid passport to enter Peru. But one woman's husband was traveling on an Indian passport and neglected to check the rules for entry, where he would have found out that he needed a visa. Sadly, he found out at the airport at check-in and was not allowed to board the flight to Peru. It was too late to get a visa for that trip." —Jacquie Whitt, Adios Adventure Travel

Do Research on the Country You're Traveling to

Vexing Visas

The remedy: Novice travelers may think a passport is all they need to jet all over the world, but that's not always the case. A visa is required for any stay in some countries, or a stay exceeding a certain length (over 90 days is common) in others. Always double-check before booking, and if a visa is required, determine how long it will take to get one. While some countries may offer a visa on arrival, others require you to mail in a visa application and wait, sometimes weeks, for approval.

Currency Quandry
Joel Carillet/istockphoto

Currency Quandary

The mistake: "We left Egypt with some leftover currency, not realizing the Egyptian pounds are one of the world's few non-convertible currencies. No one outside Egypt can exchange them for anything, so we're left with some very pretty (and rather expensive) souvenirs of our time in Egypt." —Chris Backe, One Weird Globe

Don't Exchange Too Much

Currency Quandary

The remedy: Don't exchange too much of your cash for local currency unless you're absolutely sure you'll use it all. It's true that currency from some countries, including Egypt, is nonconvertible because of government restrictions, meaning you won't be able to trade it for dollars once you're back. But it's best to use up even convertible currency, since you'll likely be smacked with steep fees for exchanging it.

Room-Size Surprise

Room-Size Surprise

The mistake: "Although we've traveled extensively in the States, when we started traveling overseas as a family, we made the mistake of thinking things would be similar to the States. A suite hotel room in the States that is comfortable for a family of four is not the same as a suite hotel room across Europe, which barely fit two of us, let alone the whole family!" —Heidi McBain, Flower Mound, Texas

Make Sure Your Hotel Can Accommodate Your Family

Room-Size Surprise

The remedy: Americans often find that hotel rooms in other countries cram standard amenities into half the usual space. But there are often other differences, too — for instance, an elevator may not be a given, and your room for two may come with two twin beds instead of a spacious king or queen. Carefully confirm whether a hotel has the amenities you want before booking. And if you must have a larger room, you may have better luck outside historic city centers, where older buildings often dictate tighter quarters.

Checked-Bag Theft

Checked-Bag Blunder

The mistake: "I checked in all my electronics — hard drive, speaker, compact camera, spare phone — into my locked luggage at Lombok Airport [in Indonesia]. Airport workers stole only my electronics and left everything else intact, and it wasn't till I was home that I realized it. What made matters worse was there was a 'syndicate' working in Lombok Airport doing exactly that — scanning luggage for electronics, stealing stuff, and selling it on an online marketplace — so I never got anything back." —Charlene Fang, Singapore

Don't Check All Your Valuables

Checked-Bag Blunder

The remedy: Don't check anything valuable unless you absolutely have to. Luggage locks are obviously easy for thieves to defeat, and even if your belongings aren't stolen, there's always a chance that your bag could get lost. Don't forget to leave chargers out of your checked bag too — that laptop will be pretty useless once the battery dies. 

Related: What To Do If Your Luggage Goes Missing When Flying

Young Woman traveling with her baby by plane wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic
Kemal Yildirim/istockphoto

Kid Conundrum

The mistake: "I thought I was being so clever by booking business-class tickets to and from Europe with miles with a lap infant added. I ended up paying thousands of dollars for my son to fly on my lap (British Airways typically charges 10% of the ticket price for a lap infant). It would have been cheaper and more comfortable if we booked him his own seat with us in coach. Less miles, too." —Tawny Clark, Tacoma, Washington

Mom reading to her toddler on airplane
Fly View Productions/istockphoto

Kid Conundrum

The remedy: Traveling with children can introduce a whole new level of complexity to any trip, particularly when it comes to air travel. For instance, lap children aren't free on foreign airlines, but the silver lining is that, unlike U.S. airlines, some foreign airlines offer reduced fares for children. Families may also want to consider roomier accommodations such as Airbnbs instead of cramped hotel rooms, which may have limited room for kids.

Must-See Mistakes

Must-See Mistake

The mistake: "When I traveled to Costa Rica last year, I knew I absolutely had to see Manuel Antonio Park. This beachfront rainforest paradise is a major tourist destination, and it kept showing up as a 'must see' place in all my pre-travel research. I planned to visit Manuel Antonio at the end of my trip, thinking I was saving the best for last. I arrived at crack of dawn on Monday morning, only to learn that the park is closed on Mondays. I never even considered that a national park might be perpetually closed one day of the week, and I didn't think to check online before driving halfway across the country to see it." —Nic Wynn, See Nic Wander

Research Popular Attractions

Must-See Mistake

The remedy: Americans accustomed to 24/7 everything may be confounded by limited hours at even the biggest tourist attractions. It's not uncommon for major museums to be shut down at least one day a week, and historical sites in particular are vulnerable to long closings for restoration work. Local holidays, strikes, and weather conditions can also close attractions. Always plan ahead, and for particularly popular attractions, consider buying tickets in advance if possible to ensure your spot.

Weather Woes

Weather Woes

The mistake: "Thinking Texas in January would be blazing hot, and being cold and underdressed! I remember trying to take notes during a walking tour — that I was the only person on — and my hands were numb. This was 2016, and I didn't even think to check the weather in advance. I just followed a preconceived notion as a Canadian that states like Texas had summer year-round." —Jennifer Bain, Toronto

Check the Weather and Pack Layers

Weather Woes

The remedy: Of course, check historic averages and long-range forecasts before you jet off to any destination, but smart packing can help blunt any surprises. Packing plenty of lightweight layers is a winning strategy in all but the most extreme climates, allowing you to load up or strip down as necessary.

Tourist inside airport, departure area, sitting and eating sandwich
Reinholds Nulle/istockphoto

Roundabout Route

The mistake: "I booked a crazy [airline] itinerary to save a few dollars — it took me over 24 hours to get home. I probably spent what I would have saved in the extra cost to get to a farther-away airport and in what I ate at the airport during the six-hour delay." —Suzanne Cope, New York

Woman listening to music while flying on an airplane wearing a facemask

Roundabout Route

The remedy: Remember that time is money, even when you're traveling. If you're tempted to forgo the nonstop flight in favor of the money-saving trip that requires two layovers, ensure you have enough time to make your connections — and enough snacks to keep you from overspending on pricey airport food. The same principle also applies to other parts of your itinerary, such as accommodations. That budget hotel on the edge of town might not be a good deal if you need to spend big on taxi fares or subway tickets each time you want to check an item off your sightseeing list. 

Related: Terminal Temptations: 8 Things You Should Never Buy at the Airport

Pickpocket Prey

Pickpocket Prey

The mistake: "I was pickpocketed on the subway in Paris by someone hiding among the business travelers. He timed it so he could jump off the subway in front of everyone coming and going right as the doors opened. I had a choice: Chase him and risk arrest in a foreign country or stand there and watch him grab cash and toss the wallet into a trash can. I chose the latter, and then spent my first day in Paris calling credit-card companies and banks in the States." —Jeff Peterson, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Wear a Money Belt

Pickpocket Prey

The remedy: Any reasonably crowded tourist destination has its share of pickpockets, and they have a variety of sophisticated techniques. Keeping your wallet in any unsecured, easy-to-reach back pocket is a definite no-no. A money belt worn under your clothing can be much safer for cash and important travel documents such as your passport. Instead of a backpack, consider getting a messenger bag with a slash-proof strap that you can keep a hand on at all times.

Risky Adventures

Risky Business

The mistake: "We took some trips that involved some physically challenging or risky activities early on and never had travel insurance. We were fortunate that nothing ever happened, but we've seen a number of friends hurt, hospitalized, needing special treatment, and we consider ourselves very lucky." —Diana Lambdin Meyer, Kansas City, Missouri  

Related: Tourists Behaving Badly Around the World

Get Travel Health Insurance

Risky Business

The remedy: Before any kind of international travel — especially trips that might involve adventure activities of any kind — ensure that your health insurance plan will cover you in case something goes wrong (there's a reasonable chance it won't). Especially with resurgent coronavirus haunting travel for who-knows-how-long, you may want to consider travel health insurance, available as either a stand-alone policy or part of a more comprehensive general travel insurance policy. Before buying, make sure you read all the fine print, as some will exclude that bungee jumping excursion you have your heart set on.

Senior Man and his Lovely Wife Love to Travel and Exploring New Destinations During a Pandemic Time.

Solo Skepticism

The mistake: "Only traveling with a companion. Turns out I love solo travel and prefer it to traveling with friends, but for years I was too afraid to travel alone. When I travel with other people, I'm always keenly aware of their needs and what they want to get out of the trip. When I travel alone, those concerns fade away. I stop worrying about what I 'should' be doing and instead enjoy whatever it is I am doing." —Clara Sherley-Appel, Santa Cruz, California

Enjoy Traveling Alone

Solo Skepticism

The remedy: In a world based on double occupancy, solo travel may seem daunting and expensive. But it doesn't have to be. Hostels with inexpensive single beds can be a great option for solo travelers, and they tend to foster a community feel that can make the experience less isolating. Some cruise ships even feature "studio cabins" meant for one, and there are organized tours that cater to individuals, too, without pricey single-supplement surcharges. 

Related: Hostel vs. Hotel: Why Redditors Are Ditching Hostels and Airbnbs for Hotels

Stolen Identity

Stolen Identity

The mistake: "I was 23 and traveling with my boyfriend in Costa Rica. We arrived in a beach town on a bus after dark. We put everything in our little motel room and walked across the street to an open-air snack place on the beach. We could see the hotel's front door and no one went in and out. Someone came in through the back and stole only my passport — no money, nothing else — and left the pouch lying on the bed. Three days later I finally realized it was gone. We had to alter the rest of our plans to go back to San Jose and spend eight hours and several hundred dollars so I would be able to get on the plane and come home." —Brittany Loubier, Tampa, Florida

Lock Personal Items in a Hotel Safe

Stolen Identity

The remedy: If your room doesn't have a safe with a combination you can set, you're probably safer keeping your passport on you at all times. And before you even leave, you should make a few copies of the ID page. Leave one at home with an emergency contact and keep one buried in your luggage. Having a copy will make it easier to replace. (It's wise to do the same with your credit cards, driver's license, and any other important documents, too.)

Mature man holding broken phone
miodrag ignjatovic/istockphoto

Tech Troubles

The mistake: "Twice I've arrived in a city thinking I would remember the hotel I was booked at or, at worst, could look it up in email ... only to have jet lag wipe out my memory and email be inaccessible for various reasons." —Sarah Miller, She Gets Lost

Write Down Important Information

Tech Troubles

The remedy: Don't take for granted that you'll always be able to pull up important information on your phone — the battery might run out, or you may not be able to find Wi-Fi. Printing out your reservation info can offer some peace of mind when you're on the go. At the very least, write down addresses and reservation or confirmation numbers and tuck the paper into your wallet.

No Vacancy

No Room at the Inn

The mistake: "We were taking our kids on a road trip out West. We didn't book hotels in advance on each leg because we weren't sure how far we'd make it each day. We were drop-dead exhausted when we finally decided to call it a night and look for a room. Turns out every single place for miles was booked by bikers heading to the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. We ended up spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in our van." —Darlene Smith, Piqua, Ohio

Couple and receptionist at counter in hotel wearing medical masks as precaution against virus. Couple on a business trip doing check-in at the hotel

No Room at the Inn

The remedy: Though some travelers appreciate the flexibility that can come from not booking accommodations in advance, the strategy can backfire in a big way, especially during busy tourism seasons. Be particularly careful leaving bookings to chance in areas where there aren't a lot of options. Double-check for events such as big conferences, sporting events, or festivals that can make rooms tough to find. If you still decide to wait until the last minute, know that you may pay a premium for a place you wouldn't otherwise look twice at.

Uncomfortable Shoes

Subpar Shoes

The mistake: "Somehow I always tend to forget that the shoes that are fine for wearing every day at home aren't so comfortable when you walk in them for six-plus hours a day." —Heather Kenny, Chicago 

Wear Shoes Made for Walking

Subpar Shoes

The remedy: Blisters are one of the most painful ways novice travelers learn this valuable lesson: Comfort always triumphs over fashion when you're seeing the world. Consider what kind of trip you're heading out on before picking footwear. After all, urban sightseeing, hardcore hiking, and beach bumming will put very different demands on your feet. If you're buying new shoes, test them out extensively in the store, and don't bring more than a couple of pairs if you don't have to, since shoes are heavy space hogs inside your luggage.

Not Getting Accustomed to New Culture

Not Getting Accustomed

The mistake: "The nagging problem I always had while starting out traveling abroad was not accounting for faux pas and finicky differences between countries, even ones sharing a border. Everything from having the wrong size electric plug to not having properly modest clothing for the United Arab Emirates." —Christine Smith, Los Angeles 

Read Travel Guides

Not Getting Accustomed

The remedy: Sadly, Americans are common offenders when it comes to committing cultural faux pas, however unintentional. To avoid this misbehavior, do your research with a guidebook or travel site that covers your target destination specifically. Look for sections on cultural awareness and boundaries that cover ways to carry yourself respectfully as well as stay safe. 

Related: 10 Signs You're Being Too Cheap While on Vacation